Monday 16 October 2017

System Preferences in macOS, High Sierra: Desktop & Screensaver

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers

In macOS, High Sierra, the content of some preferences remains unchanged. The Desktop & Screensaver preferences panel appears identical at first glance to what has been available in previous version of OS X, although there are some minor differences.

The Desktop & Screen Saver panel controls the appearance of two fairly visible parts of the interface. The panel is in two sections: Desktop and Screen Saver.


The way the desktop images are displayed remains the same. In earlier versions of OS X, selecting a desktop picture would display that image on every desktop, or Space as Apple now calls them (Mission Control). Since OS X 10.9, Mavericks, each space can have a different desktop picture. This is useful for those with specific needs (such as photography) when a solid color might be more suitable.

The Desktop pane is in three parts. At the top left is the current desktop image displayed as a thumbnail. This changes if the user works in another space which has a different desktop picture allocated. The name of the picture selected is shown just to the right of the thumbnail panel.

With some images, a button below the name will show 5 methods for the display of the image: Fill Screen, Fit to Screen, Stretch to Fill Screen, Center and Tile (greyed out for some images). Tile may no longer be an option for new setups and may only work for updated computers where it was already in use. None of the several images I tried were able to use this. Depending on the image selected, using one of these options may produce a better display. Optimized images from Apple will not show this button.


Below is a split panel for selection of desktop pictures. There are some new pictures for the update to High Sierra. However, not all images will be available on all computers: this depends on the installation (and the apps). For example, on a MacBook I use, Apple images are in only two folders: Desktop Pictures; and Solid Colours. On a MacBook Pro those plus Mature, Plants, Art, Black & White, Abstract, and Patterns are also shown.

In the same way, the MacBook does not have access to iPhoto and Aperture libraries, which are shown on my 13" MacBook Pro brought over from earlier installations. Albums from Photos should be accessible, giving access to a user's own photographs. If this is not shown (for example if it had not ever been opened on a new Mac), it may be added using the + icon below and selecting the Photos icon in the sidebar. Using the + icon we may also add our own folder selections. The - icon removes unwanted folders.

When any folder in the preference sidebar is highlighted, images in that folder appear in the main panel. Clicking on a picture makes that the desktop picture for the current space. The picture also appears as a thumbnail. There is no Undo button.

Below the panels are two checkboxes. Selecting the first makes it possible to change the picture with several time-settings, from Every 5 seconds up to Every hour and Every day. There are two other options in that menu: "When logging in" and "When waking from sleep". When this box is checked, the image icon changes. This feature only works for those spaces it is applied to: a user can have one or more spaces that change the pictures, while others keep the same image.

If the Change picture box below the panel is checked, the Random order item below becomes available. When the checkmark in the Change picture box is removed, the picture originally selected may not be shown. In my tests, these displays were only available for the pictures in the same folder (e.g. Art, Black & White). When changing to a folder that was not one of the Apple installed selections, the Change picture checkbox had to be reselected.

Screen Saver

The Screen Saver panel appears unchanged from the way it has been since OS X 10.9, Mavericks. Slideshows and Screen Savers are shown as a single group of 21 options, although a MacBook I also tried this on did not show the Scrapbook or Snapshots options.

The top 12 slideshow options are the same as those available before: Floating, Flip-up, Reflections, Origami, Shifting Tiles, Sliding Panels, Photo Mobile, Holiday Mobile, Photo Wall, Vintage Prints, Ken Burns, and Classic. Thumbnails of the slideshows are shown in the left hand panel.

These twelve use the Ladybug desktop picture as illustration. Scrapbook and Snapshot (not on the MacBook I tried) use mini image icons, however, Scrapbook failed to display any images either in the thumbnail panel (to the right) or when the screensaver was used. I have never been able to make this work. Snapshots did access the images from all sources I tried (Apple installed and my own photographs) and the screensaver worked correctly.


When one of the options is selected, the user is offered a button marked "Source". This can be used to select a folder or album. In my case, the menu offers Recent events from Photos (iPhotos and Aperture were also available for my installation), there are also four default sources included with the installation: Aerial, Nature Patterns, National Geographic and Cosmos.

Users may also choose from any suitable folder or the Photo Library (Photos must have been set up for this to be available). As a source is selected, so a slideshow of sample images is displayed in a small window above the source selector button. This display depends on the specific slideshow type selected. A checkbox below the button allows shuffling of image order.


Another seven screen savers also available in earlier versions of OS X, are also available: Flurry, Arabesque, Shell, Message, iTunes Artwork, Word of the Day, and Random (a screen saver is selected at random).

When a screen saver is selected, a preview appears in the window to the right. A button below for Options, when available, can be pressed. These are not the same for each screen saver:

  • Flurry - a Color button with 13 options (Fast Cycle was default), and three sliders
    • Streams: Few - Many
    • Thickness: Thin - Thick
    • Speed: Slow - Fast

  • Arabesque - no options available;

  • Shell - no options available;

  • Message - provides a panel in which the user may type in a message;

  • iTunes Artwork - there are two sliders for Rows (2 - 8) and Delay (0 - 5, with 2 seconds as default);

  • Word of the Day has a button to select the dictionary to be used - the New Oxford American Dictionary and a Japanese dictionary were available options as well as "Automatic".

  • Random - no options

There are three additional controls at the bottom of the screen: a button for selection of the time to start the screen saver (Never and 7 time intervals from 1 minute to 1 hour); a checkbox for "Show with clock"; and a button for Hot Corners.

This opens a panel which has four buttons for actions to be started when the cursor is moved to the four corners of the screen. In my case, I use top right to Put Display to Sleep, bottom right to Start Screen Saver, and top left for Desktop. Actions available are

  • Start Screen Saver
  • Disable Screen Saver,
  • Mission Control,
  • Application Windows,
  • Desktop,
  • Dashboard,
  • Notification Center,
  • Launchpad
  • Put Display to Sleep
  • No action: a dash (-)


In an article that is still available online, put out a couple of days after the release of OS X 10.9, Mavericks, Thorin Klosowski, writing on LifeHacker, pointed out that images provided for screen-savers (such as the National Geographic images) could also be used as desktop wallpapers.

As above, this may also be effected by using the + icon at the bottom of the Desktop panel. In the Finder panel that opens we may use the Finder menu to navigate to the /Library/Screen Savers/Default Collections/ and add any folders required. [Klosowski writes that the images could be copied using the Finder, but they are accessible this way as well.]

See Also:

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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